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About Sheep

People have raised sheep for three critical reasons: milk, meat and wool. They are much easier to handle than other farm animals, such as cows, horses and pigs. They require little room, they’re fairly easy to care for, and they can be trained to follow, come when called, and stand quietly.

Sheep are also earth-friendly. Land that cannot be used to grow vegetables, fruits, or grains is fine for sheep. They eat weeds, grasses, brush, and other plants that grow on poor land, and their manure fertilizes soil.

Sheep rely on their owners for food, protection from predators, and regular shearing, but they require less special equipment and housing than any other livestock. One or two lambs or ewes can be raised in a backyard with simple fencing and a small shelter.

Sheep are amongst the safest four-legged animals for children to handle. Most sheep are small and docile. Rams or bucks can be aggressive at times, but sheep, especially those that are around people every day are usually very gentle and even-tempered.

Sheep don’t need fancy food. In summer, they can live on grass; in winter, they can eat hay supplemented with small amounts of grain. Fresh water, salt, and a mineral and vitamin supplement complete their diet.

Sheep are anything but stupid. They learn very quickly and are amongst the smartest of all farm animals. Many sheep recognize and respond to their individual names. Sheep are often thought to be stupid because of the way they react to perceived danger. They have no way to defend themselves; if an enemy threatens them, they cannot kick like horses, butt like goats or cattle, or bite like pigs. They can only bunch together and run away. Sometimes when sheep are frightened, they run headlong into obstacles, which makes them seem stupid.


Handling Sheep

Sheep definitely respond better to routine. Do not expect them to take to something new right away.  For example, if you want to be able to run them through a chute without stress on worming day, make sure you run them through the chute for practice with some reward at the end, like their evening meal or a bit of extra grain, at least several times before worming day.

The sheep learn to come to the rattle of grain in a bucket very quickly if they get fed as soon as they come.  If you call them with your voice at the same time, they can associate the call with the food and be more willing to come to a call.


Gail Damerow - Storey Publishing, 2002: Barnyard in Your Backyard



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